Tuesday, October 14, 2008

REPORTER BLOG: A Few Dollars Goes A Long Way These Days

Ryan Scarpino

The U.S. economy is currently in one of its worst spells in the last fifty years. World markets are slowly declining and bailout plans are in effect to help save the financial market. And with the economy growing worse by the day, people just cannot afford to pay more than expected.

While attending a public hearing on Wednesday, October 8, I got to see people react to the proposed increase in electricity for all customers of American Electric Power in Ohio. And as I reported, I was saddened when Athens County residents told me they might not be able to afford their electric bill.

Here's The Deal

AEP customers could be paying an extra $42 per month for electricity by 2011. And over the course of a full year, customers would be paying an extra $500 if the bill is passed as is. AEP Ohio also has proposed to spend 75 million of its own dollars on renewable energy and it is going to affect all of its customers."

And when Education Specialist of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, Chris Verich, told the crowd to expect a 45 percent increase on the price of their electric bills, you could hear a pin drop in the room. Some people even got up to leave.

Is This Affordable?
I talked to many people including those from Environment Ohio and from the Ohio Consumer’s Counsel. They are very concerned about citizens because they don’t think residents will be able to afford the price increase.

To be honest, I don’t know if I will be affected by the energy hike. But when I saw room full of people who will be, I realized this is a very serious problem. And for the first time in my young reporting career, I turned off the camera and I just started having conversations with those in attendance, hoping to see just how this energy hike would affect them.

Residents told me they can barely afford their utilities right now. And an increase in energy costs would only make things worse. They just could not believe what they were hearing.

Cris Nisely, an Athens County resident, talked with me after leaving the hearing. She was very concerned about her money situation, and she felt that many in Athens County would be struggling to pay their electric bills as well. She told me that many are struggling to pay utilities as it is. And she also mentioned Senate Bill 221.

Senate Bill 221, which passed last October, says that by 2025, AEP has to have 12.5 percent of its energy come from renewable sources. Residents hoped that the bill would help energy costs decline because it was using renewable resources. But the exact opposite occurred, and it is hurting those in Athens County.

Renewable Energy

Amy Gomberg, member of Environment Ohio, told citizens that they can speak out against AEP and demand that they use more renewable energy. Renewable energy is energy that is replenished immediately or shortly after being consumed.

AEP is working on using renewable energy, but it needs more money to get renewable energy. That’s where AEP customers come into the mix. Regardless of what energy AEP is acquiring, citizens still have to help pay for it. They told me they feel like they are in a lose, lose situation.

Lights Out
Whether or not those in Athens County can afford the extra money per month for electricity remains to be seen. But from what I learned from those inside the hearing, I can see that it is going to be difficult for many people living in Athens County.

I am glad that I got to report at the hearing because I had no idea how something like this would affect people. And to be honest, this was one of the first stories I covered that really affected me. I felt horrible knowing that so many people were going to struggle to pay bills. What do you say to someone who tells you they won't be able to afford their next payment?

Though it is not a huge increase, AEP's energy hike is going to affect a lot of people in Athens County and all across Ohio. And I got to see up close some of those people.

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